Amongst the towering, thick jungle of Brazil's Amazon Rain Forest may be the best representation of Brazil's rapid rise as a major player on the world's agricultural stage. The Itacoatiara Port, a floating grain terminal in the Amazon River, may also be the key to the country's future.
It's owned by the Andre Maggi Group, a privately held family corporation that includes Blairo Maggi, the current Governor of Mato Grosso and soybean farmer. Together with his cousin, the family owns 500,000 hectares of land in Mato Grosso making them the largest soybean growers in the world.
Mato Grosso, which produces 8% of the world's soybean crop, is land locked. The rail system and barge terminals within the state are in their infancy stage at best and moving products out of the state, let alone to export markets, is a challenge to say the least.
Moving by truck across two-lane highways and mile upon mile of dirt roads, soybeans are transported 1,000 miles to Porto Velho, says Jander Santos, the director of operations for the port. Here they are loaded on a barge to be shipped up the Rio Negro to the Itacoatiara Port that the Maggi family built in 1997 to open export markets for Brazilian soybeans.
"From the fields of Mato Grosso to Porto Velho, it's 55 hours with our convoys. Our convoys are composed of 9, 12, 16, and 20 barges," Santos says.
Mark Mueller, a farmer from Waverly, Iowa, visited the facility in 2001 and he says it's hardly the same terminal. Then the facility could store 100,000 tonnes of soybeans.
"When I was there nine years ago, the facility was just a couple years old. There was one facility that could store 100,000 tonnes, and a facility that could empty barges and load ships. Now they have three buildings of that size there, an office complex, a staff of 800, and a bean crushing facility."
The port exported 2.5 million tonnes of soybeans last year and they expect to do 2.8 million tonnes this year. And they're far from finished.
"Our plans for the future is to work up to five million tonnes here. For the time being we have ten pushers and 73 barges. We will build 14 barges and three more pushers," Santos says.